TCS should not be punished for CUSU’s incompetence

Elsa Maishman 28 April 2016

The Cambridge University Students' Union has recently decided to slash its funding of The Cambridge Student, forcing the publication to become online-only. If passed through CUSU Council, this move would strip the paper of its core character and render it obsolete in competition with the multinational heavyweight that is the Tab.

The incompetence of CUSU is often touted as a running joke within the University. Most students seem to accept with an indifferent resignation that CUSU is structurally useless, and for the most part it manages to avoid doing too much harm to the student body. This changes, however, when an organisation responsible for crippling the finances of a student society attempts to cover its mistakes by punishing that society, and the students involved.

Most readers will not be aware of how TCS’ affiliation to CUSU works. We are editorially independent (indeed, we receive complaints from CUSU whenever we dare to allude to their ineptitude) but our finances are completely controlled by CUSU staff. This means that it is CUSU staff  who have been abjectly failing to source advertising for TCS (compare the adverts in Lent 2016 to those of Lent 2015). It is CUSU staff who are responsible for the inefficient funding model of TCS. It is CUSU staff who are responsible for the £12,000 (yes, £12,000) drop in TCS revenue over a single-year period. It is CUSU staff who pay our delivery driver. Or forget to pay him.

In recent weeks representatives have crowed delightedly over the fact that TCS made a loss last year. Why did no one tell the TCS board of directors? Why did it not occur to the CUSU general manager to reconsider the funding model, to made reductions or adjustments? Did he think that the loss-making would just magically take care of itself? The only solution CUSU offered was to introduce ‘"digital distribution bins’’ which are useless, irrelevant and a foolish and unnecessary expense.

TCS is currently costing CUSU far, far more than it needs to. The TCS Board of Directors has known this for some time, and in two separate meetings with a CUSU representative during Lent term we informed them of this fact. We told them we could reduce costs. We told them we needed a better advertising model. CUSU ignored us, and nothing was done.

Last year CUSU decided to move TCS to a new office, but failed to complete the office in time, leaving us attempting to fit a team of 35 students into a temporary office big enough for three people. We eventually gained access to this new office in January – four months later than planned. It is now April, and the office is still not completed – we don’t have a working printer (the irony), there are whiteboards taking up floorspace instead of having been put on the walls as promised, and we cannot open the window, leaving us trapped in the heat of an un-ventilated furnace.

In week two of Michaelmas 2015, our printers threatened to stop printing the paper as CUSU had failed to pay an invoice. On another occasion in the same term, CUSU forgot to pay our delivery driver. Issue eight was never delivered as the employee in question refused to do so until he had been paid for his labour.

At the end of Michaelmas, my predecessor sent an email to the CUSU business manager, expressing concern that her lack of care was seriously threatening the paper. Yesterday I received an email informing me that CUSU recently, yet again, failed to pay an outstanding invoice on time.

As you can see, CUSU is not an organisation that I would want in charge of toasting a slice of bread, let alone financing an internationally-renowned newspaper. However, the fact remains that, as appalling as CUSU is, TCS needs funding. The simple solution to this problem would be to disaffiliate, but with what start-up fund? CUSU have chosen to stab us in the back in exam term, when the core members of TCS are desperately trying to keep their lives and their degrees afloat.

This is not a game of hearts and minds. I love TCS. I have said this to CUSU, to Facebook, to the national press. But that isn’t going to change the fact that CUSU has screwed up its finances so catastrophically that it can no longer pay for the most successful and engaging of its activities.

So what do we need? We need CUSU to give TCS a bare minimun of £10,000 next year, in order to recover our tattered finances –  now in pieces in the wake of CUSU’s management. We only need one year to test a model of reduced costs and increased revenue. I wholeheartedly believe that TCS can easily earn that money back, given some competent financial management for a change. 

CUSU has gleefully told us on several occasions that it has “healthy reserves” and is “not in financial difficulty”. The Board of Trustees are currently refusing to fund us on the grounds that the budget would then predict a loss – which would be unconstitutional. However, the budget has been unconstitutional for some time. According to clause K.3 of the CUSU constitution, the budget should have been drawn up and available for inspection by students by April 11. That makes it almost three weeks late.

We cannot bear the weight of CUSU’s mistakes. It is in dire financial straights, but not through the fault of TCS. This paper spent more than a decade as a CUSU cash-cow, raking in huge profits for the organisation. Now we are being cut without a second thought.

CUSU representatives have repeatedly attempted to silence our complaints about their abject incompetence, but we are editorially independent. CUSU has not protected our future, why should we protect its reputation?